Friday, December 28, 2018

An Aus-Khmer Advent with chronic illness {A Chronic Voice Linkup}

Happy Birthday Jesus.  

“Articulating lifelong illness”. 

When I saw this tagline of A Chronic Voice blog I was excited.  If only I had something like this to read years ago when my husband’s illness was new and debilitating, perhaps things would have been less overwhelming.  Invisible challenges choked us that season, so to have them expressed feels like Ventolin for an asthmatic.   

The 5 link up prompts for this month seem like a great way to record our family’s lead up to Christmas this year. De-stressing, Savouring,Simplifying, Resting and Finalising.


Most of 2018 was one big de-stress for me! A “normal” year in my adult life usually involves either:  giving birth, having to travel overseas or moving house. Those events suck up all my emotional energy.   But this year was free of big transitions. I had time and energy for other things.

Having said that, the last few months both my husband and I have been unwell-ish. His chronic vestibular symptoms are always likely to flare up during stormy season so his sickness didn't take us by surprise. But we weren’t expecting me to also be fatigued. I  found myself tired in September, no matter how much sleep I got and how well I tried to balance bike riding and vegetable eating. I’ve had some tests and will have some more soon (anemia? thyroid?).

So we started December on low energy and not knowing if we would be feeling better soon or not. Knowing that meant we didn’t have expectations of doing too much.


Although my husband Soeun has been sick recently we are savouring that is stress free compared when it was new. It was like a dizzy monster had invaded our lives as I wrote about here.  Now we know what it is and know what we can and can’t do about it.  It’s horrible to see him in pain, and so frustrating for him but no longer debilitating and unknown.

My first few Christmases overseas it felt so wrong that December 25th  was just a normal day in Asia. After growing up in Australia where Christmas is a public holiday I found it hard to get my head around seeing kids go to school and banks open as usual. And once I was even expected to work on Christmas day. Luckily I got dengue fever so ended up staying away from work. Phew!

Christmas in Asia was weird before, but now feels freeing.  Celebrations can take on a life of their own in Western cultures, and people can end up spending too much, eating too much and being too busy. In my situation I have the luxury of choosing which bits of an Aussie December I want to enjoy and teach my family about (I’m the only one with an Australian childhood behind me). We can leave behind bits that would cost too much in terms of money or energy.

I think parents always have the tendency to want their kids to have certain things from their own childhood, I feel like I see that a lot at Christmas with expat parents. And its great to carry on some family traditions but I'm also mindful of the fact that our cross cultural kids are having a totally different childhood to us. We're savouring the chance to create new family culture rather than striving to replicate everything from our own. 

Instant Advent inherited from expats 


With limited energy between us, and no pressure to decorate our house, exchange gifts, or whatever other things people do in the West, we ended up just reading about the birth of Jesus from the Bible and from Bible story books. I was thinking about making an advent calendar and/or reading plan, but in the end I just grabbed a Bible one night and we ended up reading bits and pieces from the gospels. We had no plan, so there was no such thing as missing a night and then having to catch up.

We didn’t make the toilet roll tree like we did the last 3 years, even though we had everything to do it. But we did watch our Veggie tales DVD and listen to Colin Buchanan (both inherited from Aussie missionary families who left).

A small plastic tree (also inherited) did end up going up a few days before Christmas, unlike last year. Although we never did find that bag of tinsel or make those paper chains.

The kids were excited on Christmas morning when they saw a box of “new” toys waiting for them. We didn’t buy or wrap any presents but, again, thanks to expat families who have since left town we have so many kids books and toys. We only have some out and any one time, and the others packed away. Every few months we rotate, and each time it’s a bit like Christmas. And this time it was actually Christmas.


In November there was a day when I used up all my energy and then frustratingly it took me a few days to recover. Even though by that stage I had noticed I was fatigued it still took me by surprise.  So resting was a high priority during advent, even though I’m pretty sure I’m feeling a bit better.  I couldn’t afford to run out of energy with the possibly of my co-parent also fatigued, dizzy and in pain.


By the time December 24th arrived I felt we had completed all the big Christmas things, and we were ready to just stay home, eat easy to prep food and relax.

Our Cambodian church celebrated Christmas on December 9th with a huge loud colourful church service, complete with a banquet afterwards. Dances, songs, a nativity play and lots of decorations made it a big event.  In Australia church services are held on December 25th but it isn’t a holiday here so each church decides which Sunday to have their Christmas on.  It was strange for me to be at church on December 23rd and see that Christmas was over.  All the Christmas decorations including the tree had been taken down already, although it was not yet Christmas Eve.  

Thanks to American friends we decorated “cookies” with others. I kind of wished I had energy to bake, but I was happy we could join friends for festivities. 

We gathered with other English speakers on December 16th to sing carols and look at what was said about Jesus before he was born (Isaiah chapter 9). I was glad we could enjoy an Advent meeting even though we missed the Christmas service. (Expats had Christmas on 23rd but we were at Khmer church.)

So when December 25th arrived we were breathing easily, perhaps similar to the post-Ventolin feeling of an asthmatic.  It wouldn’t matter if either or both of us were a bit unwell on Christmas day as we didn’t have any commitments and the children would be happy to play (with "new" toys) and eat at home.  Staying home with just the four of us and some food is basically our favourite holiday. It was a relief to do it and I think we all enjoyed the day. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Silent, settle, still {fmf}

The silt has sunk.
Hi Friend,

Thanks for your post last week about the jar of river water. Thinking about muddy water settling, and leaving the top bit clear is a vivid way to think about chaos in our minds and meditation.

I've been trying to do a lot of different things recently, all at the same time. I'm not particularity busy, it might just be that I have more energy than recent months. The iron rich diet is doing its work, feels like my fatigue was indeed from anemia. I'm ready to start doing ALL THE THINGS again- right now! I feel like I have too many browser tabs open in my brain.

I was reading Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield earlier this week, and he also mentioned a jar of river water. It looks murky but if you let it settle it becomes clear. The sediment sinks to the bottom. He quoted someone else who talked about contemplation as a way to confront the toxicity in our lives.

Two jars of muddy river water within days of each other! I really do need to work on closing some of the tabs in my brain! We read a Psalm each week, this week is Psalm 42, so I'm trying to think about that more, and think about others things less.

I just checked Five Minute Friday word prompt for the week. "Still"! 

I was thinking I would try to write and link up at some stage, but feeling like I should just be reading and listening these days, before I start writing and doing things. So I'm not really planning on  writing this week. Probably better to just do essential things and pay more attention to my kids. I might start writing and linking up next year, after I've spent some time being still.

Thanks again for your words,

Thursday, December 13, 2018

10 things I hate about renting.

1. Having to wait for the landlord to fix something. Like that time we had no water for a week. Each day he said the tradesman was coming to have a look at the water pump. Tomorrow...tomorrow... Of course by the time we got around to buying our own water pump the landlord turns up to install a new one anyway.

2. Getting rid of all belonging when going overseas for a long time.  Especially when it took 6 months to empty the house. And to make it worse being overseas wasn't really working out, but it felt too hard to come back after all that emptying effort.

3. Knowing that the landlord can and does move around your things when you are overseas for a short time. Even when they said they wouldn't unlock the front door.

4. In some cases being constantly ready to move with a months notice. Like if your landlord is known for asking people to leave, or if they are trying to sell the house and you don't know if the new landlords will want to let you stay. A lot of brain space is used up this way meaning other things get neglected.

5.Having to move often, so although you need to settle in to get on with life, you can't make yourself too at home.

6. And when the inevitable moving day arrives there is stress and chaos.  And usually things get lost or broken. And your furniture doesn't work with the new place so you need to get rid of it and buy some more.

7. Being stressed about trying not to ruin the landlord's property. Like when the kids draw on the walls.

8. Growing food is harder. In boxes, ready to uproot at anytime. Remembering those trees you planted at the last house, do you have energy to plant more knowing you will leave soon?

9. Making do all the time, apart from when you can't stand it anymore so invest only to find it was a waste. Like that time we wanted fly screens on the windows. The landlord didn't want to pay for them. By the time we got around to having friends help with a DIY version the landlord said he was selling the house.

10. Financially it feels so wasteful. Between us we have about 40 years worth of renting and boarding with just some packing boxes and suitcases to show for it.

Photo by Stoica Ionela on Unsplash

Thursday, December 06, 2018

3 ways parenting preschoolers is like teaching adults English as a second language

During ELTA training I was  taught these 3 things, and they keep going around my head as I spend my hours, days, weeks, months with small people at home.

1. Speak the language correctly, you are modelling it. 

Not just teaching during teaching time, not just telling people what to do, they will copy what you actually do yourself. I thought that was a funny thing for a trainer to say when I was sitting in my classroom in Sydney. Of course I'm going to speak English properly! Just months later I found  myself fully immersed in Chinglish. Have not have your east-west?

And with kids, its not just language, but everything. They will do what you do, rather than what you say.

2. Try out the activity first, before doing it in class.

Eg, fill out a worksheet yourself. Things can look straight forward on paper, but unforeseen things can take you by surprise if you don't run through it yourself first.

Same with cooking with kids or trying out something new with them. So if I don't want them to put the eggshells in with the egg, and I've just told them not to put them on the floor, where should they put them?

3. Stop activities when they are in full swing.

It sounds counter-intuitive to end a conversation exercise when it is in full swing. Lots of learning is happening! But if you end on a high it will be easier to come back to it  next time. The other extreme is drawing it out for as long as possible until it is dwindling and torturous.

If it is time for the kids to stop playing and come inside, it can be such a struggle if they are having fun and don't want to stop for dinner. But I think then it's easier to get them outside the next time, as they feel like there is still more fun to be had.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Water Festival, Fatigue, Family and Fire {Time Capsule}

A cold rainy day, the last drops of rainy season are falling!

The kids are busy building rockets and reading new-to-us-again books. We stored some kids books in a packing box for the last few months, opening it again this week felt so exciting.

So glad they can keep themselves entertained a bit more independently. I've been feeling so tired last few months (and I think there is a medical reason). Last week we had relatives staying and they did all the cooking and kids stuff so I just rested, mostly even too tired to read.

While family were here Soeun made a bonfire in the yard and the kids enjoyed cooking bread on sticks.

We totally missed all the boat race festivities in town, but we did have a couple of homeschooling families over one morning.

Friday, November 16, 2018

6 Types of Reverse Culture Shock Incompetence

“Going “home” was one of the most successful failures of my life.

Not that repatriation is a competition, but had it been the summer I moved back, I would have been a shoo-in for the win,” writes Jerry Jones of The Culture Blend , in Arriving Well*.  

He had more than enough know-how, being a cross cultural trainer and all, plus he had some amazing friends. I almost fell off my chair with emotion when he described the way they set up his apartment and met them at the airport. And I say ‘emotion’ as I’m not sure if I was laughing or crying. Talk about attention to detail- even the cat had a welcome sign. Everything was set up so they could have a smooth transition, and yet it was still hard.

““It’s hard to feel incompetent, isn’t it?” Yep. That’s the word. It echoed for a while. Maybe it still does.
I despised feeling incompetent, but at least in China it had been expected. One look at my face set the bar incredibly low and anything I did to surpass that was met with shock and high praise.”

So after I read Jerry Jones’ chapter in which he so competently explains his incompetence I went back and looked at the re entry post I wrote a few months ago;

I realised that 1-6 are basically all incompetence. (#7 is Loss)

So here I adapted the original and turned it into:

6 Types of Reverse Culture Shock Incompetence

1.You look like everyone else so drivers assume you will know how to cross the road; people in the supermarket expect you to be able to put a box of corn flakes in the cart trolley and the line up to pay for it. (The Cereal Aisle had to get a mention.)  
You can’t do stuff people expect you to be capable of doing.

2. You've lived there before so you (think you) know how to do all those simple things. Like feed yourself and participate in conversations. Like buy and wear shoes after wearing flip-flops thongs for many years. Like speak Australian English.
You can’t do stuff you expect yourself to be capable of doing.

3. “Have you settled in yet?” It sounds like a perfectly reasonable question to ask but sometimes sounds like “You should feel settled now that you have been back for almost a year.”
You can’t be settled in like it seems people expect. 

4. Every little thing takes so much more effort so you are extra tired. But the bed is too soft, there is no hugging pillow, and it’s so cold you need to use a blanket. Even sleeping needs to be relearned.
You don’t have the ability to sleep as much as you need.

5. In a new environment your hobbies and habits that kept you sane can’t happen.
You aren’t equipped to have fun and relax.

6.Feeling like your arms have been chopped off is such a huge part of your thought life but you don’t know how to communicate this to anyone. 

Incompetence is going to be part of reentry, so get the tools- like Arriving Well. My favourite description of the book:

“The difficult but necessary topic of re-entry is approached so eloquently through five honest, raw, healing personal stories we are all certain to learn from. The co-editors/coaches neatly sum up the useful lessons learned from each story and ask the readers pertinent, reflective questions to help them through their own repatriation journeys. This is one book I will keep handy along with all my other favorite expatriate resources.“

Tina L. Quick, author of The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition and Survive and Thrive: The International Student’s Guide to Succeeding in the U.S. and founder of International Family Transitions.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Expanding in October {Time Capsule}

It feels like everything got bigger in October. Well, by everything I mean the town and our health issues.

The town is expanding out to us. A few weeks ago the electricity company installed these huge concrete poles on one side of our street. They totally dwarf the homemade wooden sticks we have been using to hold up our cables.  Sorry no person or moto for scale but in the centre of the photo you can see a pole almost as tall as the palm, while on the right you can see our maybe three metre toothpick holding the wires.

Also our pin on google recently changed from 'unnamed road' to a string of letters and numbers! Exciting times. I have no idea what they are referring to though.

The kids had some one off days of fever, tummy upset etc etc, and I also was feeling really tired from late September. No matter how much I slept and tired everything, still exhausted. So last week I had some blood tests and turns out there are at least 2 reasons for that. Both treatable, seems straight forward, although for one I will need to travel out of town to find a doctor.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Regular routine in an irregular time period {Time capsule}

So far this blog feels like my favourite way to record what's happening, so here is our time capsule for mid July-ish until early October-ish.

Finished up at preschool but not yet started official homeschooling. We are getting used to all being at home together and still setting up things/unpacking in the house. It’s like deschooling, or homeschooling preschool or maybe even just playing and reading at home with the kids. 

Our ducklings are enjoying our flooded yard.
Within in this irregular time period there are some regular things that happen. Including but not limited to:

- one afternoon week we open the laptop and turn on Skype to talk to family members in other countries. We don't always end up catching them, but we have that regular afternoon when it might happen.
-Soeun is doing Psalms in a weekday cell group and Revelation for sermons. We have just set up an office for him so he can focus better. Bought a bookshelf, unpacked most of his books! We have a code word he uses to tell us he is going to work and can't play- because the kid always want to play with him.
The vacant lot opposite us fills up with water at this time of year. Apparently a good place to take your water buffalo. 
-weekly morning playdates with a group of people we have just started getting to know. Although a few of them I have sort of known for awhile, others just moved here. It feels like the 3rd wave of playdates since I moved to Siem Reap. The group that used to meet weekly when I arrived pretty much all left town around June 2016. Then I was meeting weekly with one or two others for awhile, but then all our kids were at preschool and we didn't meet as much, and then we moved we meant we couldn't do weekdays anymore. But now, post preschool we are getting to know some others from House Church and also starting to form a homeschool community. 3 years ago I asked on Fb if there were any homeschool families and got no response. As of the weekend we I know of 5 others!
Since we finished up at preschool in June its been nice to be able to use the market near our house regularly, I end up going every few days. The transition time between when we moved but hadn't yet stopped going to preschool didn't really allow me to shop at a market.

Soeun had to unexpectedly leave one night to go and stay at church overnight with all the water... 

Current favourites. From the 1960s and 70s, new to us via American friends. 

Out the front door.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

You know your offspring's childhood is different to yours when...

...the thought of a bus ride to the capital city is more exciting to them than the thought of a plane ride.

...when they ask what a seat belt is you reply “like on the plane”.

...they ask why Jesus washed the disciples feet and you don’t need to explain they wore open shoes on dusty roads. Your answer is “Because they didn’t have a tap outside their front door like us.”

...when your toddler reaches the end of the alphabet song she stops at “Y” looks to you unsure of how to sing the final letter.

...what you call biscuits, they call cookies. Then when you make biscuits with American friends they are confused as to why scones come out of the oven instead of cookies.   

...chopsticks are the first thing they grab when they see spaghetti heading to the table.

This is all from my point of view of course. If Soeun made a list it would be quite different, their childhood is so different compared to his even though our cross cultural kids are growing up in his country.

And why does this matter?  Tanya Crossman explains here:

"An important thing to grasp is that Third Culture Kids ( TCKs who become ATCKs) begin their expat journey as children, while Third Culture Adults do not live abroad until adulthood.
It might sound subtle, but the difference is actually very significant. The children of expat families are TCKs – but the parents are usually TCAs. They are living in the same country, but while parents experience and process the challenge of cross-cultural living as adults, TCKs grow up and form identity in the middle of it."
And linking up with Velvet Ashes for "Children"

Friday, September 21, 2018

3 reasons for a cross cultural family to laugh at dinner time

I had already put forks on the table, but my son got himself a pair of chopsticks when he saw we were having spaghetti.

I found it amusing. His default way to eat Italian noodles is with chopsticks. Subconsciously I thought as I was serving Western rather than an Asian meal I assumed we would eating it the Western way. But his actions makes sense, as all he's seen his whole life is people eating noodles with chopsticks. I have also eaten spaghetti with chopsticks, but only in my adult life which I would describe as 'between worlds'.

Meanwhile, Soeun is also amused. Although I think of spaghetti as a dinnertime food he doesn't. Noodles are usually only for breakfast or a snack in Cambodia, it's not a proper dinner unless you are eating rice. Even though, as an adult he has lived in Australia and many times has had to eat an evening meal of pasta.

"Like Mummy! Like Mummy!" Our daughter was (trying) to use her fork, but laughing as she did. It seemed like she also would have though using chopsticks would be the normal thing, but she was amusing herself by imitating my funny way of eating. 

So in summary: I was laughing at our son for using chopsticks, Soeun was laughing at me for serving noodles for dinner and our daughter was laughing at me for using a fork. It was a fun family meal. Eating and laughing together.

The way you eat is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to culture. The visible, the tangible bit that sticks out of the water for all to see.  We can see how our children are learning some Western and Asian ways and it is kind of fun and interesting at this point. Their childhood is different to both Soeun's and mine. I assume as they grow up they will also be forming and learning their own fusion of ways of thinking and relating, of values and worldview. The majority of the iceberg is under the water, we can't see it, at least not at first glance.

Soeun and I are also learning a bit about each other's culture but only in our adult life, while our children are doing it in their developmental years. A big difference. And the majority of "culture" is the bottom part of the iceberg that is not so obvious.

We can already see that their 'normal' is different to both their parents. Their mother grew up eating spaghetti for dinner and their father grew up eating noodles with chopsticks. They are growing up eating spaghetti with chopsticks for the evening meal. Abnormal to both Daddy and Mummy - for different reasons.

It is likely we won't understand them by default. It is likely they will sometimes feel like they belong everywhere (with both the chopsticks users and the pasta dinner people) and sometimes feel like  they belong nowhere (who else thinks chopsticks when they see Australian style Italian food?). We hope that we'll have a family culture of eating and laughing together, where they feel they belong.

Linking up with Velvet Ashes.

Friday, September 14, 2018

To my understanding friend

So our mutual friend VelvetAshes is talking about being understood this week. I first started getting to know Velvet Ashes in Instagram, then hung out in the blog and retreat and hope to join a connection group. It’s a place I feel understood, which of course made me think of you too.

I met you just over four years ago, I can’t remember exactly how we met but I remember my first feeling. Shock. I was shocked that you knew how I felt and shocked that you expressed it so well. In some cases I hadn’t really heard anyone talk about some of these things much before. It was so nice to know someone else had been through similar experiences. If that wasn’t helpful enough you also gave me ways to deal with it.

Sometimes you give me new freeing ways to think about the struggle. For example the one about people putting on the glasses of skepticism and backing off when you're dating a local.  Or this one about not hating your husband’s ministry.  Such honest conversations!

Other times you put things in their proper perspective.  Like that time I was feeling overwhelmed about the next step for us. We needed a lot of money. Where would that come from? Then a post popped up in my newsfeed reminding me that feeling like we are small is actually a good perspective to have.  When you are in a valley, big things look big as they are supposed to. Whereas praying in high places can actually be 'dizzy and dangerous' and things look topsy-turvy.

Occasionally it feels like you are right beside me giving me commentary on what is happening, and helping me to think about how to go forward well. Like that night my fear response was taking over my logic, as we made a late night trip to the clinic. I knew my husband’s condition probably wasn’t serious but my brain was tricking me into reliving those times I thought he was moments from death. You were hinting that knowing this is actually a positive thing, and could help me serve better in the future. It's like you know what I'm going through today, and where I need to be headed tomorrow. 

And so many times you make me laugh about the stressful issues I face. Like this one about the re entry process, or this one about returning overseas (I think I laughed while reading...or was that an anxiety attack?!) 

Neither my passport country nor my host country friends can really understand my feeling about home, but you look at it from so many angles. Forbidden roots and tent pegs to name a few. And the numerous posts about saying goodbye and about being a mother come to mind. You totally "get" me!

Photo: Juniper Tree, Chiang Mai, Thailand. When I'm feeling not blue enough for my passport country, and not yellow enough for my host country I need green spaces like this!  A Life Overseas Blog is like my daily green space.
Looking back on the last few years you even knew some of my needs before I did, and managed to bring them to my attention. You always mention both counselling and TCK issues. It is as if you are assuming they should be a normal part of my life. I hadn't thought about it like that before I got to know you. Both sounded irrelevant and a bit painful based on past experience but once I started having counselling sessions and began reading about TCKs I realised you were right. It turns out that the TCK book you keep quoting from is also relevant to cross cultural kids generally, not just one narrow subset like I'd assumed. 

There are so many other posts I could mention as I thank you for being an understanding friend, and I'm also glad you've introduced to me to other blogs and books. So grateful for the way you express and explain so many of my expat emotions; and for equipping me to live well while being too foreign for here or there.

A Fan 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Monday, September 10, 2018

Storm at Angkor Wat September 6th

I was enjoying a nice peaceful read by myself near Angkor Wat, engrossed in a description of monsoon rain in Pakistan when suddenly yellow dust clouds started running along the road with the tourists who were hurrying out of the wind.
The ancient temple had been glowing golden in the afternoon sunshine but in a matter of minutes Angkor Wat became silhouetted against white clouds while dark dark clouds hung above. It felt like almost everything was moving- the trees dancing in the wind, the contrasting clouds above, the billows of dust, the crowds of people running, the water in the moat rippled in the dusk light.
I stayed to enjoy the storm for awhile, and watch the people running. When the dust and the strongest rain died down I rode home. It was still raining with a bit of lightening but not too windy. If it hadn't been getting dark I would have waited until the storm calmed down a bit more.
Arrived home soaked despite the poncho. And our house had lost power of course but the kids were having fun eating rice in the dark. That power cut turned out to be the last straw for our water pump.
Later on I found out others in town were commenting on something unusual too. Something quick and strong, someone said it looked like a tornado. It was kind of bizarre and awesome. 

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Between seasons, between worlds.

Looking outside causes me to squint. Sun is reflecting off water covering our yard.  Although its been raining for a few months this week feels like a key change. We are heading into the serious half of rainy season now. If we are going to be flooded in, it will be sometime in the next 2 months.

Our yard has started to look more like a pond.
Spring photos suddenly began blossoming on my Aussie friends Facebook timelines this week. They are writing about sunshine and thinking about taking the first swim after winter. The soundtrack of my childhood Septembers was sneezing.

Meanwhile my fellow expats are posting "back to school" photos. September is the start of a new school year, the end of "The Summer" and the start of "Fall". International schools in Cambodia follow the same school year as much of the northern hemisphere. I'm seeing those photos, as well as over a decade worth of friends who were in Asia once and are now back in America etc. I first encountered this in China. It was so weird that people called July "The Summer". At least it made sense there where it was actually hot at that time of year. Expats here still call July "Summer"even though the weather is actually cooler than the proceeding months.

No mention of where we are in the Aussie school year, it must be about three quarters of the way through the year. Christmas is synonymous with end of school and summer holidays. The school year follows the calendar year.

And for local government schools here I think their long school vacation is coming up although I'm not really sure. And for the small private schools so many go to, I don't even know if they take a break. The French school is still on summer break I think.

This change in season comes just as I'm thinking about my "greenness" or how I'm most comfortable between worlds.  I first started reading TCK blogs and books for the sake of our kids. Although they don't fit exactly into the definition of Third Culture Kid, there is so much overlap. But I'm finding it useful for myself as well. From age 8 to 18 I lived in the same house, but my whole adult life I've been moving house between 3 different countries.

"...We live between worlds, sometimes comfortable in one, sometimes in the other, but only truly comfortable in the space between..."
From Marilyn Gardner's website

I just realised how much I like this quote even though I've been reading Marilyn Gardner's books and blogs for a few years.  I love the way she describes things. The sights and sounds of Pakistan, and the feeling of straddling homes. (Although I'm not sure of this quotes origin? I need to check...)
(Update: I found it! "Burqas and Miniskirts" in Between Worlds)

Giving birth for the first time. So special. So scary. Where do you want to be for this? For some their passport country seems the best place for them to be looked after. For others their host country is most convenient. For me it worked out that a "between worlds" location was ideal. A third country where neither of us had ever been, but had an expat community. Even though I didn't really know anyone there it felt easy to slot in and I'm so thankful to have shared that time with a collection of Americans who live in various parts of Asia. I had never met them before, and most likely won't see them again.

This current change in season is highlighting the between-ness for me. In my childhood September and spring were practically the same word- they even start with the same letter. But these days I regularly have people ask me "How was your summer?" They mean how was my July, and they are asking because its assumed I would have a different timetable for that month. I will probably always link this time of year to hayfever- but never again to ONLY hayfever- its now also a new school year and watching for floods. 

And then for my husband and children it's a different experience again.

Soeun is neither Australian nor any other kind of expat so September is not spring or "back to school" for him.  And despite the fact that he is a local his home life and most intimate relationships are not local.

And our children? We don't know what their childhood will end up being like apart from that it will be so different from both their parent's childhoods. They eat spaghetti with chopsticks, go on planes more than buses, say zed and zee at the end of the alphabet. And they are growing up with parents who stare at screens... I better go and see what that screaming is.

Photo by KT on Unsplash

Monday, August 20, 2018

6 lengths of time I've had to make a speedy but emotional investment in a home

A string of fairy lights ties my first pregnancy/newborn memories to a night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We decorated our house with the lights, along with postcards and photos. It felt like our place for those 90 days of maternity leave from Cambodia/Australia.

I tried to make our room feel like home as quickly as possible (without investing too much) as we were only going to be there for three months. 

I tacked up, taped up and tied up satiny scarves from the Russian market and photos of friends and family to begin  my first year in Cambodia. The walls were covered in brown marks from the last person's taped up posters, the ceiling was really low and there was little natural light or air flow.

 It was hot and uncomfortable but I needed to make my room feel like home as quickly as possible (without investing too much) as I was only going to be there for ten months.

ONE  (academic) YEAR (multiplied by about 6)
Again, photos up on the wall straight away in my Australian student accommodation (and sometimes a rainbow mirror ball). Some years it was my uni course, Bible college year or husband's Bible college.

I tried to make my/our room/s feel like home as quickly as possible (without investing too much) as we were only going to be there for about 11 months.

To combat the dark, cold months of a north east Chinese winter I bought a gaggle of pot plants for my flat, as well as arranging  photos and pictures above the radiator. The colourful doona cover I received from friends at uni decorated my sofa. Finding a place for the washing machine, that still allowed me to use the kitchen and the bathroom was a big challenge but thankfully got done.

I needed to make my room feel like home as quickly as possible (without investing too much) as I was only going to be there for eighteen months.

The patterns breaks down here, I would have loved making it home straight away, especially as we had come from 2 years of stress and were due to have a baby in 6 months...however, the owners were selling so we had to go month by month not knowing if they were going to kick us out- so stressful not to be able to make it feel like home, it had felt like such an essential thing to do all the other times I've moved house. I need a home to rest in so I can function.  

Again, the pattern breaks down but for a happier reason. When we knew we would be in the same house for FOUR YEARS we attached hooks and hung empty photos frames on the wall. No need to rush putting photos in, there's plenty of time to do that later. We didn't need to make it feel like home as quickly as possible, as we would be there for FOUR YEARS. So when it came time to pack up we laughed when we took down the still empty photo frames...

I didn't really get interested in last week's Velvet Ashes word until I read The Grove and the readers blog linked up. When I did I realised this is an aspect of expat life I want to record here.  This isn't an exhaustive list of house moves but its the general vibe of the last 20 years.

Photo credit:

unsplash-logoNong Vang